DrupalCon Chicago

Whew! What an amazing week! DrupalCon Chicago is – sadly – now past, and we’ve started looking forward to London and Denver. Now that I’ve had time to return home and get some much-needed sleep, it’s time to make note of some observations I’ve made this year.

The Good:

The Drupal community is as energetic (and quirky) as ever.

Whether it’s presenters leaping up onto tabletops (thank you Emma Jane and Morten) or a wedding (congratulations to Melissa and Michael!), DrupalCon has once again proven to be an entertaining and unpredictable experience. The sheer energy of DrupalCon seems to recharge the communal batteries and sends us all home buzzing with ideas and motivation.

Drupal is open for business.

One of the things that really struck me this year was the sheer number of companies present and the volume of money they seem to be moving through the Drupal community. It used to be we could count the big name Drupal development shops on one hand. This year, however, the exhibit hall was packed with more vendors than I’ve ever seen in the five years I’ve been a part of the Drupal community – and almost all of them seemed to be hiring. I was also struck at the good-natured (but very real) rivalry and competition amongst the various firms. Competition is good, and the friendly one-upsmanship I saw between the big players is just the sort of constructive competition that we need for a healthy ecosystem.

I am once again impressed by the civility shown by the members of the Drupal community when we disagree.

Whether it was the debate surrounding “Drupal as a framework or Drupal as a platform” or the “how can we store configuration information” discussion, it’s clear to me that the participants have not forgotten that our similarities are greater than our differences. Arguments tend to be rooted in fact instead of emotion, objective and not personal. As with any community of this size, there are always interpersonal conflicts – but the infighting we often see in other open source communities is not as prevalent. Civility is the norm, and nearly everyone does a good job of remembering that we all want the same thing – a great piece of software supported by a great community. I find that fact very reassuring and take it as a sign that our community is healthy.

The Hallway Track and the BoFs were full of win.

The sessions I attended were all well done and very useful, in a lot of ways the semi-random encounters in the hallways along with the more informal environment of the BoFs were just as valuable. I met some great new people, re-established relationships that had faded since San Francisco, and learned a lot about what my peers were doing. I came home with a fistful of new contacts to follow up with and even more ideas on how I might better serve my users based on what the other attendees are doing.

The Lightbulb Moment returns!

Past DrupalCons have invariably delivered a “Lightbulb Moment” where something suddenly becomes clear and changes how I work with Drupal. This year was no exception. I’d been very loosely keeping an eye on automating deployment of sites and features with tools like AEgir, the Features module, drush make, and profiles since we were all in San Francisco last year. I hadn’t quite seen everything I needed yet, but was definitely interested in seeing where the projects were headed. Dmitri’s session on Wednesday afternoon finally brought it all together. With the addition of the Profiler module – a tool I had not yet had a chance to investigate – the missing pieces fell into place. There’s an excellent chance they’ll completely change how I manage and deploy sites in the future.

The “Meh”:

Chicago is a great city with wonderful food and accommodations, but it’s a bit hard on one’s wallet.

Not all of us are on corporate expense accounts. While it’s relatively cheap to fly into O’Hare, the hotels and restaurants around “Drupal Towers” can put a strain on a budget. It was also surprisingly expensive to get in from the airport for those of us who aren’t familiar with the CTA, and it was a bit of a hike to the nearest ‘L’ station while toting luggage. The DrupalCon site even states that “There is no direct public transportation between either O’Hare or Midway airports and the Sheraton.” While the hotel and its facilities were excellent and the nearby restaurants were very good, it would have been just as good a conference (if a bit less scenic) in a somewhat less expensive neighborhood.

The Field Museum party was well-planned, with one exception.

The location was excellent, the food was tasty (although they ran out of the good beer before I even made it in the door), and the logistics of getting so many people from the Sheraton to the museum were handled magnificently. The only thing that keeps the event from being a roaring success in my book is that the band was probably not the best choice for the location. Putting an amplified band in a space dominated by (quite literally) tons of smooth shiny marble was a poor decision acoustically. Conversation immediately became almost impossible and even though the band seemed like they were quite good, there appeared to be an exodus for the buses as soon as they started playing. When even the 20-somethings were saying it was too loud perhaps the band wasn’t the best fit for the situation.

The Bad:

“Nice Nodes”

One of the vendors this year was giving out t-shirts with the words “nice nodes” emblazoned across the chest. While the vendor claims the sexual connotations were unintentional, I can’t seem to find a way to interpret it as anything but a crude anatomical double entendre. Unfortunately, when I pointed out on Twitter that the shirts were in very poor taste their response was less than satisfying and more than a little bit snarky:

“node” is gender indeterminate. Do you know something we don’t? #drupalcon #nicenodes

When I replied pointing out that “nodes” (plural) across someone’s chest is not ambiguous I received a rather insulting response:

Sorry if you are offended. The t-shirt is simply meant to be silly. Nothing more. An inside joke for those familiar with Drupal

Doubly implying that 1) there must be something wrong with me that I’d be offended (but not sorry that they may have done something offensive?) and 2) I’m not familiar enough with Drupal to know what “nodes” are. Neither are true, and I’m insulted that they responded to my well-intentioned “hey, your shirts are in poor taste” with snark. (Also a bit ironic from an organization that was earlier in the day tweeting about social change and celebrating International Women’s Day.) Given the controversy in past DrupalCons over the card game and Parisian silhouette flamewar, one would think vendors would know better and be more careful. Sadly, apparently not.

The Conclusion:

DrupalCon Chicago rocked.

I caught up with old friends and made some new ones. I laughed. I learned. I didn’t sleep (much). I came home re-evaluating the tools I use to do my job. I had my belief in the greatness of the Drupal community reinforced. Bravo! DrupalCon Chicago team, you did a fantastic job. You set a high bar for your peers in London and Denver. Well-done. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again next time.

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7 Responses to “DrupalCon Chicago”

  • I’m a woman and I wasn’t offended by the nice nodes shirts at all. I thought they were cute.

    • @js: Fair enough. I wasn’t necessarily offended by the shirts themselves – I just thought they were a bad joke in poor taste. I was, however, offended by their response. When a community member raises a red flag about something a company did, it behooves that company to take them seriously instead of responding with sarcasm or snark.

  • Greg,
    It was good hanging out with you at DrupalCon. Looking forward to some collaboration in the near future.

    Paul (CWS@OSU)

  • Greg,

    Great to meet you IRL finally! Good post man.


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